As effective and well-liked as the Fairey Swordfish torpedo bomber was for the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm (FAA), its origins lay in 1930s thinking for the design retained a biplane wing arrangement, open-air cockpits for its three crew, and a fixed wheeled undercarriage. Its prototype first flew in 1934 and service introduction was in 1936 after which followed a healthy production run of 2,391 aircraft. To satisfy Air Ministry Specification S.41/36, Fairey Aviation moved on offering the FAA a more modern form of the Swordfish which became the Fairey "Albacore". It was a sound enough aircraft but never managed the popularity or production levels of the Swordfish as only 800 (798) were built before the line was retired - ahead of the Swordfish no less.
The Albacore was affectionately known as the "Applecore" by her crews.
A Bristol Taurus engine was selected to offer more power than the Bristol Pegasus featured in the Swordfish. One of the key physical changes to the design was a wholly-enclosed cockpit for the crew which benefited the design on two fronts - aerodynamic efficiency and crew operating conditions. A biplane wing arrangement was retained as was a fixed wheeled undercarriage, though the main legs were faired over rather nicely for additional aerodynamic gains. The aircraft would operate through a crew of three as standard and carry up to 2,000 pounds of ordnance in the way of conventional drop bombs or - more importantly - a single torpedo weighing 1,670 pounds.
The Bristol Taurus II model was a 14-cylinder radial piston engine outputting at 1,065 horsepower. Coupled with the revised airframe, maximum speed was 160 miles per hour with a cruising speed near 140 miles per hour. Range was out to 930 miles and service ceiling reached 20,700 feet. The aircraft could reach 6,000 feet in about eight minutes. Comparatively, the Swordfish managed a speed up to 143 miles per hour with a torpedo load and ranged out to 522 miles. Service ceiling was 16,500 feet and rate-of-climb 870 feet per minute.
Standard armament on the Albacore was 1 x 7.7mm machine gun in a fixed, forward-firing mounting in the starboard wing element. 1 or 2 x 7.7mm Vickers K machine guns could be set in the rear cockpit to protect the aircraft's more vulnerable rear quarters from intercepting enemy fighters. The rear armament was optional and not featured in some active Albacores.
First flight for an Albacore prototype came on December 12th, 1938 - less than a year from the British declaration of war on Germany (this still to come in September of 1939). A second prototype followed but this had its wheeled undercarriage replaced with floats for the floatplane torpedo bomber role. In the end, the wheeled version won out and the design formally entered service with the FAA during 1940.
The Albacore's baptism of fire came on a sortie against Boulogne in September of 1940. In March of 1941, Albacores were used effectively in heavily damaging the Italian warship Vittorio Veneto and were later pressed into service over-land as light bombers against Axis targets in North Africa. Its performance limited these particular endeavors to night actions to help lessen the risk of interception by enemy fighters. Beyond involvement in setting the stage for the 2nd Battle of Alamein (October-November 1942), the Albacore was featured from British carrier decks throughout the Mediterranean (including the Sicily/Italian landings), in the Arctic, over Atlantic waters, and off the Indian coast - essentially wherever British carriers were needed the Albacore was fielded in force. During the June 1944 Allied invasion of Normandy along the French northern coast, Albacores played a supporting role under the flag of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). In fact, final actions involving Albacores were by the Canadians as the British retired their stock during 1944.
In the end, the Albacore made up the primary aircraft of no fewer than forty-five FAA squadrons. The Royal Air Force (RAF) also featured it in two of its own squadrons (Nos. 36 and 119) and the Canadians managed the Albacore through just one squadron during the war, this being No. 415.